Painting Figures with a Palette knife.

Painting Figures With a Palette Knife

Painting figures with a palette knife. As you are now all aware. I am dissecting parts of my painting “The Drift” To give guidance to those that would like to learn how to paint with palette knives.

First of all, the most important figures within the painting. Are the rider and his horse. They characterise the feeling, that something significant is happening. And not just ponies running wild. Also I have purposely painted my rider astride a proper horse, and not a pony. All others painted, are New Forest Ponies.

If you have not read my previous blog. Please use the following link below to familiar yourself so far.

Palette Knife Painting, Stage One.



The New Forest Drift Explained.

“The Drift”, is the name given to the round up of Ponies running wild, in the New Forest England. When each year they are caught, corralled and inspected for their health. Then registered before being set free, to roam The New Forest again. My man and horse, needs to be strong. As the ponies being wild. Are very reluctant to be caught, during the chase to round them up.

How To Paint With Palette Knives 


Painting The Horse And Rider to Portray Energy.

You have now painted the background. And are hopefully happy with your results. You will recall that the energy is created by the direction that the paint is laid on the canvas with the palette knife As I have explained in my last Blog. (If you are not familiar, please use the link above to accustom yourself. )

You will note in my video’s that I load my palette knife, Then boldly lay the oil paint into the position that I require it. Whilst painting figures with a palette knife. Especially relevent, is that I have drawn very lightly the shape of the rider into the paint first. Use anything pointed, and press gently. This is just to give me an Idea of relativity and size.


How To Paint With Palette Knives


Using The Palette Knife To The Artists Advantage.

I have purposely made the beret larger to show you how easy it is to scrape away the paint to gain the shape that you wish for. When painting figures with a palette knife

I also scrape away some of the beret and face in the final video below. Therefore making it smaller, and shape it as I want to. Coupled with that. Your figures have to be positioned to create the motion, and feeling of energy.

I have deliberately positioned the rider and the horse leaning slightly forward. To assist that energy. Furthermore, it creates the motion I am wishing to portray.

When painting figures with a palette knife. Be aware that this is just a block in. Therefore, If you are satisfied with your first attempt. LEAVE IT !!  if not, you can always alter it, scrape it out and start again. Most of all, don’t be afraid of making a mistake? Its you that has to be satisfied. Be bold. Remember. NERVOUS STROKES MAKE FOR A BAD PAINTING.



Video 1 inserting the figure.




Painting figures with a palette knife

and making a

  study of horse and rider.

Below in the close up. I have darkened the underside of the beret. Then cut it upwards with the palette knife, slightly to make the ear position to the face.

The riders face is painted with Cadmium Red. Then highlighted with  a small amount of Cadmium Yellow. To pick up the sunshine.

I have painted in the collar to the riders tunic. Then lenthened it to touch the horses head. All painted in French Ultamarine Blue.

I have brought the ears of the horse in a little closer to each other. Put them upright. Then darkened the insides with a little burnt umber. Consequently, this portrays that the horse is paying attention, to the obstacles and water ahead of him. The arm of the rider is put in with a little Cadmium Red.


 Most important are the eyes and nose of the


First of all. Note that the left side of the horses head is stepped down after the eye, this is where the horses nose narrows..

Also I have now indented the top step, and darkened with burnt umber, where the left eye should be, In addition , I have flared the two nostrils of the horse outwards. To emphasise that he is breathing heavy and is alert.

The right eye is very important in this painting.

For they are the horses windows to life, and the viewer has to empathise with the painting. By feeling that the horse is a living animal. And concentrating to the commands of the rider upon him.

( practice with the eyes a few times, until you get a shape that you are satisfied with, and get that feeling that you have bought him to life!!!)

As a result. The the rest of the painting will then come to life, Due to your experience of feeling empathy.


Painting Figures With A palette Knife,

The Highlights

Always highlight with a lighter colour brown  (Burnt Sienna) with a little lemon yellow added. Above and under the horse eye to create depth to his head. As a result, his eye will then be softer and sunken.

Darken a little to the left side of the head. Hence it will give depth and roundness to the head.

Then highlight the ears, the right side of the head and neck with Indian Yellow and flake white mixed To create the sunlight shining upon him,

Be careful not to overdo it, as the finished sunshine highlights come at the end of the painting.


Painting the Head Collar and tack.

Now put in the head collar.

You can use what tool you like for this, even a nail point is good.

Put a little white, slightly darkened with a little paynes grey, onto the point then drag it accross the horses brow. Ensuring that it is hooped upwards. As a result creating the roundness of the horses head and nose.

Some of the white usually adheres to the paint of the horses head.

And wallah you have a head collar with highlights.!!



Studying Movements of your subject.


A good trick. Is to study a horse jumping on the TV or You Tube.

Consequently you will learn, how a horse reacts before he attacks a jump or obstacle.

Horses are an animal of flight. And by their very nature are nervous of entity’s they have problems to understand.

In addition. They are always ready to flee, when they are not happy.

Certianly, they will do what humans ask of them. But it will always be on their terms. Consequently, the horse is the boss.

If they dont want to cooperate, then problems will arise.!!


Painting Figures With A Palette Knife Body Positions


I always say that within my paintings the subject is about to do something, is doing something, or has just done something.

Therefore, I would like you to study, many pictures of any subject that you paint, before putting them on canvas.

As it is the finer positions you see your subject in. That give you the feeling of energy. Be it a hand or arm in the wrong position.

All movements of any living being, when performing natural day to day tasks are in unison with their body.

Unless they have been knocked out of their normal routine by falling or some other mishap,.

Even then the positions of their limbs will create energy within your painting, if you paint them correctly.



The Horse’s Chest And Legs.

The chest and legs of the horse are painted in with Burnt Umber. To create contrast of shadow (you can lighten it later and change the colour slightly)

I have painted in the jeans of the rider, with Manganese Blue, lightened with flake white.

Ensure that the line of the jeans are sloping slightly backwards, this emphasises the look of speed and movement.

Try to draw the blue paint of the jeans down in one stroke. Make sure your palette knife is loaded with enough paint, then go for it!!




 Painting figures with a palette knife

 in oil paint

(The Viewers impression)


A point to remember when painting with palette knife.

You are painting a pastiche of the real life. It is for the viewer to decide in their minds eye how they see your painting.

Palette knife paintings, always look better when stood away from the finished work.

Any imperfections you notice yourself, when viewing your work. Will be lost in the overall view of the completed fantastic painting.


The Video’s Below Follow on in sequence to each other from the one above

As I am only able to put short videos on this website.



VIdeo 2 beginning the horse.


Video 3



Video 4 Cutting away and highlighting the face.



Stage 2 of the overall Painting so far.


The New Forest Open Art Competiton

Winner Michael Parker. With His Painting

“The Drift”



Next Time.

Above is stage 2. In stage three we will complete the horse. Block more of the ponies in.

Then put in the complete water reflection.

You have plenty to paint before then,!!

Dont forget that I would love to recieve any comments, and perhaps pictures of your ongoing work.

Until The Next Blog on the painting “The New Forest Drift.

Best Wishes,


1 thought on “Painting Figures with a Palette knife.”

  1. Hi Mike, I’ve been enjoying your blog so far. I did try oils in the early days but went back to the easier acrylics, but am now thinking I may try oil again. The trouble is I haven’t been taught how to use the oils and when to use the mediums. Anyway glad of your success, because I know you are a dedicated artist. I’m hoping that watching your blog will give me the confidence to move back to oils.

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